You do not have to adopt a mentor’s perspective, but rather use it to broaden your perspective and enrich your abilities to manage and work more effectively with teammates. Ultimately, diversity within your organisation should be a plus if well navigatedKatya Nyangi
For this segment of Women In Marketing, we had the pleasure to chat with Katya Nyangi who is the Communication & Marketing Director for Makini Schools in Kenya. With a passion for literature, she has dreams of building a 21st-century library accessible to all children. We won’t be surprised if she runs for the presidency one day! Let’s read more about her
LET’S GET PERSONAL
WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FONDEST MEMORIES?
My father was Kenyan and my mother Russian. I was born in Kenya, in Nyeri, Mt. Kenya region. My father was an agricultural engineer and was working on a project there. I do not have a recollection of that time as I then moved back to the south of Russia, Krasnodar, where I spent some time with my grandmother in my early childhood and that is where I have my first memories.
Among my fondest memories was picking cherries and walnuts from my grandmother’s trees and running around with my cousins (twin boys) – which clearly explains the scars on my knees – and swimming in a nearby river. It is, however, important to say that even if I do not have a recollection of that time, I feel very much connected to the Mt. Kenya region and it always feels like home when I spend time there, as much as neither of my parents came from there. I’m now 33 years old (29.09.87), and still feels that way.
SHOW OFF TO OUR READERS. ANY HIDDEN TALENTS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US? A CLARINET STAR IN THE MAKING PERHAPS?
Oh my! No hidden talents. I have a strong sense of intuition. I am good at premonitions and have a good sense of people. I often get the “how did you know?” I write poems from time to time and write community stories that require me to visit the communities I interview and spend time with them in their space while interviewing them. I publish them occasionally on my blog byawoman.com
WE WOULD ALL LOVE TO WIN THE LOTTERY RIGHT? IF YOU WON $10 MILLION TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
First, I believe in the power of storytelling and that means books. I believe books can truly shape you as a child. I say they saved me because characters in books became some of my greatest companions through dark periods of my life since teenagehood. Books do not only build your character and imagination but they are also therapeutic, they parent! They help keep children away from antisocial behaviour too.
I am imagining a cutting edge 21st-century free access library for all children and teens in Kenya (content for their age), built sustainably to support the SDGs, and therefore, reduce the cost as well. The library would represent a foundation that then works to develop literature and talent and progress opportunities to share work and publish from earlier years. Moreso, I find that even our bookstores stock popular culture and trends and it is often very difficult to find diverse literature for children and teens. African literature is now growing but written specifically for children and teens is still limited.
Hence my appreciation to Nnedi Okorafor and Tomi Adeyemi whose books teens from the continent can read and relate to. So, I’d need to also reward myself by going on my bucket list budget world tour. I love to experience culture.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULDN’T SHARE WITH ANYONE!
I just love potatoes! In any shape, form and style of cooking. If it has potatoes I am happy! If ever I was told I had to stop eating them, I’d be heartbroken.
WHAT MADE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD OF MARKETING? WHAT PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME PUSHED YOU TO PURSUE THIS CAREER? AFTER ALL, WE ALL WANTED TO BE DOCTORS GROWING UP, RIGHT?
Wrong! I knew from early on in my life that I would never be a doctor. I had empathy but the sight of blood traumatized me. I also spent a lot of time in hospitals as a child. My father had to have his dialysis done twice a week, sometimes three times. I felt I had had enough of hospitals and blood.
I started in journalism then communication then marketing. And now we know that only an integrated approach works best, hence why we call it marketing communications. For me, it was the moment I could measure and see the results of our strategies. It is so fulfilling. As much as it can be challenging, sometimes very fast-paced, a lot of anxiety toward meeting targets, it is also a lot of fun! Working on stories, designs, events – it is such a colourful world. If you have a great team, just makes it all the better.
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL IN THE WORLD, WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?
I would be a giraffe. I mean, life in the wild is not easy, but giraffes stay graceful. They glide on and even when they run, you can see they’d rather just walk. Grace is so powerful and when we have grace, we find a way to pull through anything. Physically and by complexion my long neck and tone relates to that of a giraffe. Funny! If only I could have the eyelashes too.
WHAT’S THE MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T LEARN FROM YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE ALONE?
Oops, I think I have mentioned that in the above questions. I am a (single) mother to a 13-year-old girl who also enjoys stories and is an avid reader! I completed my degree by attending night school when she was still a baby.
ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
#teamcoffee “rise and grind”, I percolate my coffee. I feel that some quiet time before I get into the day is important. My form of informal meditation. I collect my thoughts about the day and what I am looking to achieve that week. Something I am working on improving: it could be with myself, with my work, with a teammate (relationships).
I then have to have a glass of warm water. Take breakfast, shower, dress then have my coffee! My day only officially starts after I have had my coffee. I could do this while perusing the latest industry news and the newspapers, which is how I’d start a typical morning. I can only exercise in the evenings. Never gathered the energy to get going in the mornings!
HOW BEST DO YOU STRIKE A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
This is a tough one for sure.
Between work, hobbies, interests and other initiatives, friendships and parenting – wow! I still have a lot to learn in this but where I am at now, I schedule my to do’s in my calendar and I sometimes schedule my whole month so that will include personal things I need to make time for.
This makes me not as spontaneous but in between all that, of course, a couple of things could come up and as Picasso said, master the rules like a pro and break them like an artist. Scheduling keeps me organized but it does not need to make me too rigid. I have come to accept that there is a season for things. It’s not perfect harmony amongst everything all at a go. Sometimes more of you will go to your work, sometimes more will go to your personal development, other times more will go to your family and friendships – and that’s okay.
When I am going into a particularly hectic phase, I do have a conversation with my daughter explaining that I may not be as available for x period of time. I try my best never to miss school commitments, however. For women, we have to demonstrate what is important to us for others to also understand its importance to us and not to expect us to sacrifice the most crucial things for say, a meeting you do not want to miss over a swimming gala where your child is participating. You will never have those moments back but you will still have hundreds of meetings!
WHAT APPS/SOFTWARE/TOOLS CAN YOU NOT GO A DAY WITHOUT UTILISING?
Guilty! Too many for my own good. I use Google Docs and Google Sheets for everything. Trello helps get our team organized but we have not been consistent. With the new normal, Meets and Zoom are tools we use daily. I do check in with Twitter for news and my Instagram feed to unwind and see what the rest of the world is up to. WhatsApp has lots of workgroups, it’s the quickest most immediate way to communicate, so I use it daily when I am working and I offload it, alongside other social media, when I am taking a break.
HOW BEST WOULD YOU DEFINE GREAT LEADERSHIP?
Great leadership is the one waiting to happen. Leadership is a journey rather than a destination. Even the very best discover traits they had not realized. All in all, a leader is someone who people want to follow vs feel obliged to follow and your role is to create an enabling environment for the team to achieve the best and grow. A great leader ensures people advance in their roles and even discover themselves in the process- the thing they are passionate about.
Setting high standards is important. I love you as my colleague, I want to see us succeed as a team, I will do my best to support us and these are our standards and expectations and this is why they are important. A team is as strong as the weakest link, that is why the whole team must be working with the same standard in mind.
I continue to learn from mistakes and mentors and sometimes from direct feedback from my team. And oh yes! You are already a step ahead if your team feels open enough to give you feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to hear but it helps.
JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENA ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?
I think there is no one size fits all. Being in one industry for a meaningful amount of time helps you gather significant experience as you work through different cycles of the organization’s opportunities and challenges. In my case for example, through a change in management to reorganization to rekindling the passion for what we do and why we do it, to the new normal and looking at the future of the industry – in my case, education. Had I left, I would have missed out on great learning opportunities for myself. Then again what qualifies as a meaningful amount of time in our fast-paced digital era? I leave that to you.
FOR OUR INTERVIEW WITH YAEL TAMAR FROM SOLIDBLOCK, SHE REMARKED THAT WOMEN ARE MOST LIKELY TO OCCUPY THE CMO ROLE AS COMPARED TO THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS. WITH WOMEN CONTROLLING OVER $20 TRILLION IN GLOBAL SPENDING, WHY HAS IT BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE FEMALE CMOS IN YOUR OPINION?
Women are socialised in certain ways that are in-built in us even as we try to educate ourselves and eliminate biases. For example, women understand the idea of a community better. They understand the challenges people face in day to day lives better and can more easily connect with that as women. They can pave the way for other women who will potentially come into their role in the future.
We are more empathetic and because we are socialised to take turns in conversations, we are better listeners – we interrupt less, if at all. These are all character traits that are very important to the marketing world where we have to understand the market, what to look out for and to be in a constant state of listening. It also makes sense that women can do more with less as we are used to working with fewer resources in our lives and this reflects on what we achieve with our budgets.
COVID19 HAS BROUGHT WITH IT AN UNPRECEDENTED DISRUPTION TO THE WORLD. SEVERAL COMPANIES ARE NEARING BANKRUPTCY WHILE OTHERS HAVE BEEN FORCED TO SHUTDOWN OR LAY OFF THEIR STAFF. WHAT SHOULD THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION BE ESPECIALLY IN THE MARKETING CONTEXT AS WE ADAPT IN THIS ENVIRONMENT? HOW HAVE YOU AND YOUR DEPARTMENT COUNTERED THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC?
The key for me in all our initiatives is storytelling and with the pandemic, the question is, what’s the story? Yes, marketing is about targets but in the case of the pandemic, it is more so our role, than ever before, to hold our community together. It is a time of sustainability, not profit. Our department countered the situation by focusing on sustainability not sales. Information marketing was the most important at this time.
Our customers want to have the right information to make the best choices. We created more opportunities for conversations through customer care, webinars, relevant articles, for instance, on how e-learning works and why it works, how we foresee the future of education, how we can assist you in making the best decision for your child.
This, by consequence, also attracted the attention of the people who became our new customers. It has been challenging but we are keeping afloat and have managed to retain all our staff members so far.
SYSTEMS AROUND REMOTE WORK AND VIDEO CONFERENCING ARE INCREASINGLY BECOMING STAPLE IN MOST ORGANISATIONS. ACCORDING TO THE INFOGRAPHIC CREATED BY VISUAL CAPITALIST, ZOOM IS NOW WORTH MORE THAN THE 7 BIGGEST AIRLINES IN THE WORLD AT A WHOPPING MARKET CAPITALIZATION OF JUST OVER $40BN. SUFFICE TO SAY, REMOTE WORKING IS AN ASPECT OF MODERN-DAY WORK THAT HAS BEEN LONG OVERDUE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY HAVE MOST ORGANISATIONS STRUGGLED TO CONVERT TO THIS WAY OF WORK?
Organizations have been talking about digital transformation but not succeeding nor properly implementing it. It was seen as something of the future – the 4th industrial revolution. Yet, we are already speaking of the 5th. In my opinion, it all goes back to culture. Digital transformation has to be a culture within the organization and implemented in a manner that showcases the benefits lest it is met with great fear.
Organizations might have been spending more money, effort and focus on tools vs culture, which made it difficult to adapt when there was no option but to do so. People are still central, no matter how digital an organization gets. If people are not aligned, it does not work.
In our case, it all happened so fast and was a baptism by fire. People seem to adapt better when they have no option but to do so. This helped everyone pick their pace as we had to keep going. It was a tumultuous time, shifting all learning and meetings online, making sure all staff are equipped with data etc to do so. We had great teamwork and truly this is what made it possible. Luckily, we already had a digital innovation lead who greatly supported this process and had some aspects of digital school already implemented before the crisis.
We are now quite settled in it as a way of life and keep looking for ways to make the interactions better.
REMOTE WORK HAS COME WITH ITS OWN SET OF CHALLENGES, PARAMOUNT TO THIS IS THE FACT THAT EMPLOYEES ARE NOW ‘ALWAYS ON’ WITH WORK CARRYING OVER EVEN BEYOND WORKING HOURS. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS MANAGE THIS BETTER TO PROTECT THE WELLBEING OF THEIR EMPLOYEES?
Yes, this is very true and something I have been thinking about a lot. I think we have to be clear on what flexible means. In that organizations can focus on the output expected over a certain duration – a day, a week, a month – and allow people to manage that in a way that works for them. Some roles are more tied to time than others, for example, customer service that needs to be available from a certain to a certain time of the day. This means that not all departments and teams can be treated the same way – this also requires flexibility.
It is important to have that performance management in place and with the team to work out what the reasonable output is, for the time available. This can guide how organizations plan, so as not to overestimate or to see if more people are required on the team to achieve a deadline. Sometimes crises require that teams put in the extra hours, and this should be compensated in one way or another.
SHERYL SANDBERG MADE AN INTERESTING REMARK IN HER KICK-ASS BIOGRAPHY ‘LEAN IN: WOMEN, WORK, AND THE WILL TO LEAD’ THAT “SEARCHING FOR A MENTOR HAS BECOME THE PROFESSIONAL EQUIVALENT OF WAITING FOR PRINCE CHARMING”. SHE IS ILLUSTRATING THE NOTION OF WOMEN HAVING TO SEEK APPROVAL OR VALIDATION, ESPECIALLY FROM MEN WHO ARE AT MOST TIMES THE MENTORS. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON MENTORSHIP?
My take on mentorship is that it is very very crucial and has been greatly beneficial to me. As I shared in this article, “One or more mentors, of both genders, who have experience in various aspects of leadership goes a long way. First, you get to understand that what you may be experiencing is not unique. Find out how they handled similar challenges and opportunities or what they have observed to be effective in their interactions with others in leadership and with teams during their time of service.
You do not have to adopt a mentor’s perspective, but rather use it to broaden your perspective and enrich your abilities to manage and work more effectively with teammates. Ultimately, diversity within your organisation should be a plus if well navigated.”
Male mentors have helped me better learn the language of assertiveness and how men can better negotiate in certain aspects (I learnt that tone and language is key) and female mentors have helped me learn how to better navigate the challenges unique to us in the workplace.
BCG PUBLISHED ITS INNOVATION REPORT FOR 2020 AND AT THE CORE OF ITS SELECTION CRITERIA ARE COMPANIES THAT HAVE SUCCESSFULLY MARRIED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT MAKES SOMETHING INNOVATIVE? HOW DO YOU DEFINE INNOVATION AT Makini Schools?
In Education, we have to keep with the times and ensure that we are preparing our learners to be ready for the modern world and to succeed in it. Continuous innovation is therefore a lifestyle for Makini Schools. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we had set up a Maker Space which is an innovation hub for our learners – a free space for them to explore robotics, coding, come up with solutions and even present to their peers to enhance communication and collaboration.
When Covid-19 hit us, we first had to quickly ensure a smooth transition to E-learning. Luckily, we had already started implementing our in-house built Makini Digital School. We had to however adapt the curriculum to ensure that we still retained holistic education virtually and what we can say is we have done extremely well in the industry and have seen our learners become more in charge of the educational journeys. We are probably amongst the only schools in the region that have a role that deals solely with digital innovation.
This is prime to us in digital innovation and we have built a lot of our software in-house. For the parents, we apply the same digital transformation to our customer experience from enquiry to enrolment.
AT THE TIME OF PUBLISHING, THE DIGITAL MARKETING INSTITUTE ESTIMATED THAT THE INFLUENCER MARKETING INDUSTRY WILL HIT THE $10BN MARK BY 2020. WHETHER B2B OR B2C, IT’S EVIDENT THAT BRANDS AND ORGANISATIONS HAVE HAD THEIR SUCCESS WITH THIS MODEL OF MARKETING. HOW WILL THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECT THIS INDUSTRY GOING FORWARD AND DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS STILL A PLACE FOR INFLUENCER MARKETING?
I think the Covid pandemic has boosted the need for influencer marketing. We have had to work with the people who have access to our audiences and can share the experience of our service/ products effectively by virtual means. Some have doubted influencer marketing but that probably happens when it is not managed and decided upon strategically. The online space has become more saturated and therefore this means that one has to go deeper into how to directly reach their audiences amid all the ‘noise’.
2020 AND BEYOND
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
I love touching and smelling my books. So mainly paperback. I am currently finishing on ‘Kintu‘ by Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. I will thereafter be reading ‘A Mournable Body‘ by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga. This year, for me, was mainly dedicated to African female authors.
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
I confess, I rarely watch Netflix and I do not own a TV. However, Kenyan films are making it to Netflix now. This is exciting hence I am looking to watch Sincerely Daisy and Disconnect.
AS WE LEARN TO LIVE WITH COVID19 IF YOU COULD REPLACE THE HANDSHAKE AS A FORM OF GREETING, WHAT INTERESTING NEW GREETING WOULD YOU INTRODUCE?
A foot tap! Our feet ground us and this is a time to stay grounded.
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
My childhood best friend, Wendy.
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
There are so many resources out there! Read, experiment, attend marketing forums/webinars, try out new concepts and models and you’ll go far. Do not hold yourself back. It’s that “crazy” idea that’s the next best thing waiting to happen. It is a demanding but extremely fun and rewarding space to work in.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Dear Katya, you did the best you could. Be gentle with yourself.
WHAT CHALLENGE IS ON YOUR PLATE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PAINPOINTS YOU ARE TRYING TO OVERCOME IN YOUR LIFE WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY, PERSONALLY OR BOTH?
Professionally, this is my first dealing with a pandemic and it has been challenging to make projections given these are not normal times or rather a new normal that will require a new set of data as a reference point. I would like to give more time to my relationships and perhaps change my status too 😉 wink wink!
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS (PROFESSIONAL AS WELL AS PERSONAL)?
To travel across the Iguazu falls in South America!
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FEMALE HEROES?
Mekatilili wa Menza – when I learnt the history of it
Henrietta Lacks – Powerful and poignant journey that has affected us all and we do not even know it!
Wangari Maathai – her daring nature was inspiring.
JK Rowling has a story I relate to – tenacity, using her lunch breaks to write.